How to Get a Book Published – The 7 Step Plan

Patrick Rothfuss
The king of rejection letters?

Upon the publication of my first book, other authors asked me how I accomplished this feat.  As it turns out, many writers see getting published as a herculean, almost insurmountable goal.  But as with any major undertaking, breaking it down into manageable steps makes the process far less daunting.

For this reason, I drew up a step by step plan for authors who are wondering how to get published.  Although these steps are based on my own experience, they are applicable for most authors.  So without further ado, here is my seven step plan for getting published:

1.  Polish Your Novel

Before sending your novel off to publishers, you want it to be in top shape.  To make this happen, the key ingredient is time.   After finishing your book, set the manuscript aside for two weeks minimum.  If possible, wait at least a month.  And then go back to it and start revising.

The passing of time allows you to return to your novel with a fresh perspective.  When you are too close to your work, you cannot see it for what it truly is.  The distance placed between yourself and your writing by the passing of weeks or months will allow you to view it far more objectively.

Even if your novel has been revised previously, waiting for several weeks and revising it again will only benefit the quality of your work.

2. Write a Synopsis

Once your book is in top form, it’s time to prepare a synopsis.  This will be used to shop around your novel to potential agents and publishers.

The length of the required synopsis will vary from publisher to publisher.  Read their guidelines, and give them what they want.  As a general rule, a synopsis should be no longer than 1 page for every 25 pages of manuscript.

When writing your synopsis, be sure to start out by succinctly explaining the main problem facing your protagonist.  If your novel has a hook, which is something that makes it unique, also mention that near the beginning.  Then go on and summarize your story, being certain to include key characters and their motivations.  A synopsis should be written in the present tense.

For help with this step, check out author Terry W. Ervin II’s article on writing a novel synopsis.

3. Write a Query Letter

A query letter will be your first contact with potential agents or publishers.  Therefore, it needs to be concise, professional and attention-getting.

Your letter should be no longer than one double-spaced page, and should make the case for why your book is worth consideration.  It must state your novel’s title, genre and word count, and should offer a short summary of your story.  You also want to say a few words about yourself.  If you have any interesting qualifications, or have been published in the past, you want to mention that here.

For guidelines on how to structure an effective query, see Ravana’s post on Writing Query Letters.

4. Research Agents and Publishers

Before sending out your query, make sure that you are targeting the right people.  One way to begin is by looking for published authors whose writing is similar to yours, and discovering who their agents and publishers are.  Often this information is volunteered near the front of their books (under Acknowledgements), or can be obtained through an online search.

Having an agent is not strictly necessary.  However, an experienced agent can open doors that would otherwise remain shut.  Many large publishers use agents as “gatekeepers,” whose purpose is to weed out inferior manuscripts.  Therefore, they will not consider a book that isn’t being shopped by an agent.

In any case, it is crucial to know something about whom you are submitting to before sending out your queries.  Use the internet to learn as much as you can about each prospective agent or publisher.  Know which authors they work with, and what their reputations are in the industry.  Most importantly, discover what they are looking for.  Agents and publishers will list guidelines on their web sites.  If your book is not what they are seeking, look elsewhere.

At this point a warning is necessary.  There are many unscrupulous individuals who pose as agents or publishers.  Educate yourself as to the warning signs.  For help in identifying potential predators, you will want use the resources listed here: Writer’s Beware – Writing Industry Watchdog Group.

5. Send Out Your Queries

When sending out your query letters, be sure to follow the guidelines issued by the agent or publisher.  Send them exactly what they ask for, and nothing more.  Only include a synopsis or sample chapters if they specifically request it.

Do not include any photographs or illustrations.  Do not use fancy paper or elaborate fonts.  These are the marks of an amateur, and will only serve to harm your chances.

6. Prepare for Rejection

When you are first discovering how to get published, you will receive rejection letters.  Lots of them.  Do not take this personally.

I once heard a valuable adage: “There is no such thing as failure, only feedback.”

Keep this in mind as the rejections roll in.  Some of the letters will contain constructive criticisms.  Learn from them.  Most of the rejections, however, will be generic form letters.  Throw those letters in the trash and forget about them.

What must be understood is that publishers and agents are flooded with queries on a daily basis.  It’s impossible for them to give adequate attention to every letter that they receive.  Thus, their first instinct is to reject everything that crosses their desks.  In the process they reject many outstanding manuscripts, but that’s the nature of the business.  Publishing a book is an expensive and risky enterprise, so their caution is justified.

Patrick Rothfuss, who is now a New York Times bestselling author, accumulated rejections for two years before an agent was willing to represent him.  Therefore, he describes himself as a “connoisseur of rejection letters.”  He advises new authors to celebrate when they receive their first rejection letter, as it is a sign that they are writing and taking the risk of submitting.  It’s a milestone in every writer’s journey.

Just keep sending out more letters, and don’t give in to discouragement.  This is a numbers game.  You will likely send out dozens, if not hundreds of queries before someone expresses interest.  This can take months or even years.  Just be patient.  It only takes one yes to make everything worthwhile.

In the meantime, drop by our Writing Forums and commiserate with other authors who are playing the waiting game.  Advice and encouragement from other writers will make this process less painful, and will help you to keep things in perspective.

7. Start Your Next Project

If you just sit and wait, you will feel miserable and powerless.  Instead, use this time to begin working on your next book.  Writing something new will help to keep your creative energies flowing.  And when someone finally says “yes” to your manuscript, your followup will already be on its way to completion.

What Steps Did You Take to Get Published?

These steps are based on my own observations.  However, the path to publication isn’t the same for everyone.  Perhaps your own publishing journey unfolded differently?  No matter what, we can learn from the experiences of one another.  Please share with us your own insights on how to get a book published.

For more publishing advice, see Getting Published in the Fantasy Genre.

Antonio del Drago is a writer, philosopher and professor. His latest book, The Mythic Guide to Characters: Writing Characters Who Enchant and Inspire, is now available.

63 Responses to How to Get a Book Published – The 7 Step Plan

  1. So I just finished my manuscript for my first book.  I am hoping to send it out to hopefully get published, but I want more people to read it.  Is there any place where writers can go to get feedback like that?

  2. I have been writing my first book for a couple of years now and I’m pretty certain it’s complete and as good as possible. I want to get it published but I worry that because I have no history as a writer and no connections in writing and publishing circles that no agents or publishers will be interested or even take the time to read my book. I don’t really have any relevant qualifications that would interest them or anything impressive to even put in a query letter.

  3. What about copy rights?  How do you make sure your story is not stolen once someone gets their hands on it.  Don’t you have to go through a copy right stage or get it secured first?  Thanks.

  4. Hi, my name is Ashleigh and I’m a college student at Vncennes Universtiy. I’ve been writing since I was thirteen years old and I have this fear that my stories are not quit good enough. I get feed back from my peers that love my stories, but I still don’t know what should be my next step.

  5. i am ten years old i got up and i thought what do i want to do when i grow up so i asked my enghlish teacher what should i do? she said i should be a writer, so i started comeing up with ideas for my book.

    • sincerlycarly I’m sorry, but I honestly think you should work on your grammar and spelling first. But after that, go for it!

    • sincerlycarly 
      I think that’s wonderful!   Remember, you can do anything if you try hard enough!    I think it’s great that you already have lots of ideas!  Keep an idea file, so you can go back and work with one idea at a time – just a little box will do, or a file, or you can type them up on the computer, just some place where you can go back to them and be inspired by all of your great ideas!
      Don’t let the message from Hannah bother you – I think she must have missed the part where you said that you are only ten years old!  My daughters are around your age, too, and we all sometimes type fast, especially when posting a message! 
      You just remember to do what you love!  When you love something then it’s fun!  Good luck!

  6. Antonio,
    I’m not a writer, But I do write Children’s stories for my daughter. I don’t know if they are any good but I know that she loves them. Do these steps apply for children’s books as well? I started when she was about 3 and she’s going to be 6 now, so that’s the age group. She has actually helped me pick names for our characters. Any thoughts?

  7. Okay so this may seem like a stupid question but it is something i struggle with deeply. Paragraphs. I know the formant for essays and all but when it comes to my free-lance manuscripts…. i’m lost. I feel like sometimes i’m just indenting every other sentence. How should i overcome this? How long should a paragraph be?

  8. So i’ve been told time and time again that you can’t write about something you’ve never done. I’m writing from the point of view of a teenager but of course i’ve never drank, skipped class, partied a ton and all of that. But i’ve read many books with similar things but does it really improve your writing to experience them? (I’m not saying i’m going to go out drinking and flunk all of my classes if this is true) I love drama and my director told me that even if your young and you are portraying someone in love, or heartbroken, or angry, or terrified even though you’ve never been in a relationship or been betrayed or any of that that you can still find things that you can build those feelings off of. Like you can turn your love for your old blanket into a love for a person or your heartbreak over your dead fish into your mourning for your dead husband in theater. So far i’ve been applying this notion to my writing but i’m just wondering am i just missing something?

  9. Hey so i’m under 18 and i know i’m not ready to look at any potential publishers yet but i know there is a rule where you can’t get published without your gaurdien’s permission and that they have to read it. THis just really got me thinking… what if you feel uncomfortable showing your parent’s your manuscript? I’ve shown countless friends and i truly love my characters and all but something about showing any family member freaks me out. I just don’t know how to overcome this.

  10. I’ve been a Paramedic for the past 15 years. I’ve always wanted to write a book about my experiences but with a story line and fictional characters. I was told not to write it in the third person but rather in the first person. I don’t know how to do this and keep the story line and characters I’ve created. Any suggesstions?

    • @jedge41 
      No book is made like that and no book is written in one day, unless it is a kiddie story.
      You see, start with making a plan, make a giant list with every possible scenario that might happen to you as a paramedic. After you have the list, try some logic into it, if you were a plastic surgeon that worked for  maybe a month, you wouldn’t very easily get the job to change ones entire face. So do that, make a plan in how to write and then just start. Follow your plan, and if you feel that the content isn’t enough, put your fantasy behind it and continue on.

  11. A friend of mine has a very well written book, and has been told so by many publishers he’s contacted, but in the end has always been turned down because of his age. Is there any way to overcome this?

    • Yes.  He needs to keep revising the manuscript, getting feedback from other writers, and making it the best book possible.
      If his book is finely honed, and captivates potential readers, his age will no longer be a factor.
      And if that should fail, well, he may want to consider self-publishing for e-readers.  That is becoming a promising path for many authors, myself included.  It’s possible to reach a sizable audience via the Kindle store.

    • if he is interested in getting published initially as an e-book, then if sales do well in print, have him contact I think they do a 50/50 royalty share. They are currently taking submissions. 
      Good Luck!

  12. i’m 12 and i’m writing my own book but sometimes i feel like i use the same words over and over again. does anyone else feel like this?

    • @Lottie293 I feel like that all of the time! When i find a good way to say it i want to say it more often which is understandable.

      • @[email protected]
        Dears, try using a thesaurus!
        Really, it has helped me a lot!

  13. So i’ve been writing for a while. I finally got the courage to share my book with some friends and they really liked it. But the thing is how can i know for sure what opinion is honest? I trust them but friends will be friends and will hide some sour opinions from you.

  14. Hey i am thirteen going on fourteen and have managed to expand my books to a hundred pages or so. I’m still in the process of finishing my current one but i defiantly think it is easier as one gets older. I used to get bored after the first page but now i usually write up to page sixty before getting writer’s block. 

  15. This isn’t a question about publishing, but the writing itself. I don’t want to worry about publishing until my book is near completion or completed.  Anyway, my question was, when you are starting a new book, how and when do you determine where it is going to take place? Do you always use real places? How do you feel about making up your own towns and cities in which these stories take place? And how do know it is the right place? Do you visit them all? This is just something I’m struggling on right now. While it is easy writing about a place I’m familiar with, I’m not sure that is the road I want to go down so I’m exploring other options. I haven’t been many places and traveling would be hard for me right now. So I’m thinking I might create my own town and instead research areas of a state of my choosing to make sure the demographic fits with the image in my head.

    • [email protected] Since my fiction is almost exclusively fantasy, I make everything up.

      • [email protected] del [email protected] I was gonna do that, but I didn’t. I have had my story planned for years. I already have more than half my story typed up.

    • [email protected] In my story, I make up the names of some places but mostly use actual places as the settings. Summarized, my story is about heroes vs villains in the modern world today.

  16. I’m currently writing a book that takes root in a post-apocalyptic setting. I was wondering, how many pages is enough? How many pages does it take to consider a chapter? I introduce my character in the beginning, give a brief background via his memories, dreams, and thoughts. Eventually I then introduce another character. I’m trying to make it so that the second character’s introduction isn’t too cheesy and I shortly introduced his own story via him explaining his views right after I introduced him. Is that bad? What advice would you give me and how should I go about writing this?

    • [email protected] For a sense as to how long a book should be, check out other books in the same genre and see what their wordcount is.  Also, many publishers have minimum wordcounts in their submission guidelines.
      Regarding how you introduce these characters, there’s no right way or wrong way to do this.  It’s all relative to the context of the story.  I would suggest registering for an account in our writing forums, and posting this question there in greater detail.  Someone there will be able to give you the help that you require.

  17. I’m Ten and was one of the best writers in my class (It’s summer so thats why I’m saying ‘was’)nd I wrote a book wrhen I was 9, and now

  18. I am the youngest person here at 10 years, but I LOVE to write. My problem, usually, is that my “books” run out of ideas before reaching three pages. Everyone says that writing long stories will improve as I get older.  But, hey, I actually have a 30 page book that im still working on! So,don’t get dicouraged…
    Thanks Antonio!

    • I’ve had that problem for a while but the other day i actually came up with an idea that should make a pretty long book! Looks like we all get good ideas at some point!

  19. My steps? 😉

    1) Write a story.
    Well, we all have to do this part, right? 😉

    2) Get story read.
    This is not unique to me, but it’s different from many writers. I follow the spirit behind Heinlein’s Rules, the third of which says “You must refrain from rewriting except to editorial order.” That doesn’t mean “don’t revise”. It means you, the writer, often have no blessed clue what about your book is good, and what needs fixing. You’re as likely to screw the book up as fix it if you revise/rewrite blind. So I always get someone (or several someones) to read a work *first*, before I revise, so that I’m not going in blind. A powerful tool; but your own method may vary.

    3) Revise based on comments from beta readers.
    See above.

    4) Edit/get edited the revised version.
    Now get someone to give it a serious going over. If you’ve been working on your craft, you should already have almost no spelling, grammar, or punctuation errors left, but we’re all at different stages in those skills, so proofreading is critical. Just as critical is an editorial check to help handle any rewording that might make the prose tighter, remove bad writing habits you have (we all have ’em!), etc. Get the edit. Fix the problems. Done.

    5) Make cover.
    Not too hard. If you don’t like graphic design (I always have), hire this out.

    6) Publish.
    Push the button.

    Because as Clay Shirky said so well recently, “Publishing is going away. Because the word “publishing” means a cadre of professionals who are taking on the incredible difficulty and complexity and expense of making something public. That’s not a job anymore. That’s a button. There’s a button that says “publish,” and when you press it, it’s done.”

  20. I really can relate to those commenting above me. Everything feels completely hopeless when you’re 13 years old. I have a completed manuscript (125K words satiric fantasy) and I’m very proud of it, but I doubt that anyone will ever take any interest.

    • Griffin,

      Don’t be discouraged.  Show your novel to some writers whom you respect, and make improvements based on their feedback.  When your manuscript is in top shape, send out queries to some publishers and agents.  For guidance in this process, ask for help from the members of our writing forums, in the Publishing forum.

      When it comes to getting your book published, the fact that you are young might actually be to your advantage.

  21. Good info! I have plenty of stuff written, but need to organize into a chapters. I especially appreciate your tip for leaving it alone for a while them coming back to review and revise. This will be helpful, because once i start writing, it just flows out like a river and is hard to stop, so I tend to get slightly off topic.

  22. Hi, I’m 15 and trying to write a book with my friend. Will publishers take me seriously because I am so young, or will they only care about the quality of the book?

    • Hi, I am actually 12 and writing a book on my own as well. The problem young writers today face is that most people do not take us seriously…even you might be reading this and think “shes 12..the book is probably really crappy!” So as young writers our Query letters need to be jaw droppping. Make sure it contaims good hooks and try to just wedge your age in near the end, because for me, the first time they see 12 they automatically take out the rejection stamp! Just keep trying and the right plan for you will fall into place! Good luck!

      • hi, im 11 and writing a book, its nice to see im not the only younger person writing a book and trying to get it published

  23. Aloha, thank you for your information. My dream has always been to become a published writer. It’s my sincerest passion. Your simple steps and courage to proceed through the rejection letters will propel my dream forward. Mahalo. 

  24. I just recently finished a book (Sci-fi, YA) and I would love to see my book on actual shelves also, not as an e-Book. I know a lot of people who would rather read a real book than an e-Book, and I am one of them. HOw would I let publishers know that I would rather have a real book?

  25. Thanks all!  Brand new at this and just trying to weed through all the BS… Of course the very first publisher, Tate Publising, I found sent me a Fedexed contract, and I thought.. “ok..this is just too good to be true”.. so trying to find the legit stuff out there.  Will be a process I’m happy to dive into.  Good luck authors!

  26. Thank you for the encouragement, it’s very easy to give up.  I was told blogging was also a good way to get out there.

  27. Needing advise. I have always known there was a book in me; I recently started writing it and am currently on chapter three with up to 22 more chapter titles. Should I wait till book is completed, or can I start searching for a publisher now? Thanks in advance for any advise you can give.

    • Hi Rhonda,

      I would recommend waiting until the book is finished.  No legitimate publisher will give your manuscript consideration until it has been completed.

      However, you can still investigate publishers and get a sense for who may be a good fit in the future.  Even if the book is in progress, it can’t hurt to spend some time studying how to get a book published.

  28. The above is an excellent write up on the “traditional” route to publishing, which used to be the only viable method for making a living as a fictional wirter. Today, as noted by several people above, small pressess are offering an alternative and self-publishing is also now a viable option because edistribution (of both print and electronic books) has opened up a channel for sales. I personally have “done it all” – small press, self-published, and I’m now signed with a big-six publisher and I can say there is no “right or wrong choice”. There is only a choice that aligns best with your goals as a writer. So decide what you want then seek the path that will get you there.

  29. I’m not sure either. But its pretty dang cool, I bet, seeing your own book on a shelf next to Harry Potter, Twilight, or Percy Jackson:)

  30. Sometimes you just get lucky, too. For me, I was in the middle of a slew of rejections when I was lucky enough to forge a relationship with a small publisher. I never even sent them a query letter. 

    They asked for my MS and the rest is history. I’m not sure if I will stay with small publishing for my entire life or not, but I have a chance to publish my entire first series and I get a lot of personal attention. The biggest negative I have experienced is the inability to get my first novel on any ‘shelves’ at actual brick-and-mortar book stores. Other than that, it has been a very positive experience. 

    • Hey Brian,

      Thanks for sharing your experience.  Yes, sometimes you get lucky and things work out quickly. 

      As for your book not being on any actual “shelves,” I’m not sure how important that is anymore. 

  31. Went through all those steps for years, and years and years.  Finally I got out of the mainstream and started sending directly to small publishers and hit with Platt River Press.  They are small enough so that if I want a wide distribution, I feel as if I have to some of my own leg work, but the perk is that I am working person to person on the steps it takes for them to publish.

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